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Senior Shackster
792 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
In the late sixties and early seventies there were a serious of devil
worship/witchcraft films released in the US, most of them from foreign
sources. They included "The Witchfinder General" ("Conqueror Worm"
US title), "Mark of the Devil" (German dubbed) and "Blood on Satan's
Claw" (British). The producers took advantage of the new screen
freedom and each movie featured more graphic gore and nudity than
was previously allowed. I was between the ages of 10 through 13 when
these movies were shown and I was quite interested in graphic horror
movies and curious how the gore effects were created.

Of course decades later I produced my own horror films with graphic
gore and special effects and these movies were an influence on me
in terms of what you could get away with on screen. These were
all low budget films but they had good production value and peformances
which was also an inspiration for indie fillmmakers. Just because funds
were limited, there was no excuse not to have these elements in the
movie if you were clever in how you allocated funds. I never accepted
the excuse by some schlockmeister directors that claimed their movie was
bad because they didn't have enough funds to make it good. Look
at what George Romero did in "Night of the Living Dead" and Herk
Harvey did in "Carnival of Souls" with their paltry budgets.

Of the witchcraft films, I thought "Blood on Satan's Claw" was the
most interesting primarily because it was very atmospheric and
really suggested the time period depicted in the narrative. It was
reasonably graphic for 1970 (released in the US in 1971). Unfortunately
it was rated R which meant my parent's would've had to take me to
see it and they hated horror flicks so the first time I screened it was
in syndication on Television. Obviously, all of the gore and nudity
was cut but I was still able to get a feel for the picture and thought
it was good even with the cuts. I tried to track it down on DVD but
thus far it's only been released in England which meant I had to purchase
a PAL import and get a region free player to watch it.

The Anchor Bay PAL disc is generally good quality but is not anamorphically
enhanced so I wouldn't recommend projecting it on a DLP. On a standard
monitor it looks pretty good. It hasn't been digitally restored in that there
is occasional dust on the copy but the color is good and the image sharp.

The film stars creepy Patrick Wymark ("Where Eagles Dare") as a judge
in the middle ages who visits the British country side and discovers the
skeleton of the devil has been accidently dug up by a peasant. The
way witchcraft is depicted in this story is rather interesting. The bones
of the devil 'infect' young teenagers who become sexually promiscuous
to the point where they start raping each other. They know they're
infected when they get a hairy patch of skin somewhere on their body.
The concept of devil worship as a sort of infection/venerial disease
is certainly a different take on the subject.

This copy is uncut which shows nudity and some gore when a doctor
tries to slice off the hairy patch on one infected girl. Another young
man sees his hand turn into a claw and chops it off which is another
grisly scene. The most controversial sequences show a 17 year old
girl stripping to seduce the local minister. Since the actress, Linda
Hayden really was 17, they censored some of the nudity in the US
prints but it's intact here. There's also a graphic rape scene when
a teenage devil worshiper rapes a girl while the rest of the clan
watches with enthusiasm and sniffs her torn dress. Pretty
raunchy stuff for the era. The earlier Hammer horror films are
considerabley milder than this Tigron release. In fact I would
describe this picture as a Hammer type flick that actually delivered
the goods. Most Hammer movies were too reserved and really
didn't have the scares you would expect from their premises even
though they had good color and sets.

The film is tame compared to modern gore films but the atmosphere
is so creepy that there are a number of disturbing images throughout
the feature. The eeire music score by Marc Wilkinson is also very effective.

This is a low key mood piece so don't expect non-stop shock scenes
like a slasher film. It reminded me of the original "Wicker Man" in terms
of tone. A sense of dread and evil lurking in the location. The one
weak park of the picture is the ending. They shot the climax in
slow motion which didn't really work within the context of the rest
of the story. The other horror scenes feature quick flash cuts
and choppy editing so the slow motion comes out of no where.

The extras include a 'making of' featurette which is fair. There's
also a commentary track by the director and lead actress which
starts off interesting then fizzles out when they run out of things
to say. I wanted to hear more production stories of how they
stretched their budget to make the film look good but it's only
mentioned a few times. They do discuss the restored censor
cuts. Apparently the movie was a hit in the US but did only
fair business in Britain.

So if you have a region free player and like Hammer movies or
Gothic horror films, check out this feature which has gathered
a cult reputation over the years. It can be purchased on line
on ebay.

I guess I should add the proviso that since I've directed these types
of movies, it's difficult to shock or gross me out. Some of you might
be grossed out depending on whether you've seen these pictures
before or enjoy this type of entertainment.
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